18 March 2024

Two years after a stroke, my eyes
have not dimmed and my
vigour has not diminished

The blossoming magnolia tree in Milton Keynes Hospital offered fresh hope for health, renewal and new life in the week after my stroke two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

It is two years today since I suffered a stroke in Milton Keynes on 18 March 2022. At the time, I was on leave from parish ministry in the Diocese of Limerick for compassionate and personal reasons, and I was spending Saint Patrick’s Weekend in Milton Keynes when I had that stroke, unexpectedly and without any warning.

Charlotte and I went back to the hospital this afternoon, to see the magnolia tree that gave me hope in the days and weeks immmediately after that stroke, and to thank each other for the life, health and love that we have enjoyed in the two years since then.

I was admitted to Milton Keynes Hospital immediately after the stroke, and spent two weeks in hospitals, first in Milton Keynes and then from 29 March in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Since that AVM, I have been back to Milton Keynes Hospital for a number of check-ups and consultations, and to Sheffield Hospital for a consultation and overnight for a ‘Gamma Knife’ procedure.

While I was in hospital in Milton Keynes, I was also diagnosed with Covid-19 – for the first time. This did not stop Charlotte visiting me in hospital every day, and eventually, when I was allowed out of isolation, I also took hope for health, renewal and new life from the blossoming magnolia in one of the hospital courtyards, where we sat each afternoon on three consecutive afternoons, sipping coffee and planning our future.

The consequences of that stroke were extensive and far-reaching, beyond the hospital procedures and stays. I had already decided that I was going to retire from parish ministry after that Easter, although I had not yet made any public announcement.

While I was in hospital in Milton Keynes, in advance of being moved to Oxford, I realised I was not going to return to parish ministry in Co Limerick and Co Kerry before my planned retirement date. I agreed with the Dean of Limerick as commissary of the diocese that I would take early retirement at the end of that month, on 31 March 2022.

I was moved to the John Radcliffe Hospital on 29 March and able to leave on 1 April. After another overnight stay in Oxford, I returned to Milton Keynes two weeks after I was first taken to hospital with that stroke.

I eventually moved into a flat in Stony Stratford in early April 2022, and have been living here ever since. I have returned to Ireland four or five times each year for family visits, for research on chapters for books, for interviews with a television station in Montenegro, to meet family members and friends, and I even missed a flight to attend a book launch in Dublin.

In many ways, these have not been two easy years. But there have been many joys too, and Charlotte and I got married last November in Camden Town Hall and Southwark Cathedral. Apart from those visits to Ireland, there have been return visits to Lichfield and Tamworth, visits to York and Sheffield, visits to Hungary and Finland on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG, and visits to Venice and Prague and a delayed – although brief – honeymoon in Paris.

I am continuing to write for books, journals, magazines and newspapers, I have now settled down into a flat overlooking the High Street in Stony Stratford – I have mused already on how I could say that over the span of over 50 years it has been a move from one High Street to another, from High Street in Wexford to High Street in Stony Stratford.

There have been continuing consultations with the hospitals in Milton Keynes, Oxford and Sheffield as a follow-up to my stroke two years ago. I had another check-up on my Vitamin B12 levels two weeks ago, and I have another hospital appointment in Milton Keynes next week. At 72, I may not quite be in rude health. But my distant ‘cousin’ Kevin Martin, who died last year (14 June 2023), would greet me on my birthdays with the traditional Jewish greeting of ‘ad meah v’esrim’, ‘may you live until 120!’ (עד מאה ועשרים שנה‎).

Deuteronomy recalls that Moses lived to be 120, at which age ‘his eye had not dimmed, and his vigour had not diminished’ (Deuteronomy 34: 7). Great rabbis of the Talmud, including Hillel, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, all lived to 120 as well. The blessing carries the implication that the receiver should retain full mental and physical faculties to the end of life.

With those implications, living until I am 120 does not sound so bad a prospect at all. Another half century after my stroke in 2022, and yet another half century after moving into High Street, Wexford, in the early 1970s, may not be so dim or distant a prospect; it might be a real blessing with the love, care and attention I have been receiving over the past two years.

Coffee under the magnolia tree in Milton Keynes Hospital in the week after my stroke two years ago (Photograph: Charlotte Hunter)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
34, 18 March 2024,
Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm depicted in Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Passiontide – the last two weeks of Lent – began yesterday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent V), also known as Passion Sunday. Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the life of Saint Cyril (386), Bishop of Jerusalem, Teacher of the Faith.

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship.

Today, I am remembering that it is two years today since I suffered a stroke in Milton Keynes on 18 March 2022. But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for life and love, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Anselm depicted in the window above the High Altar in Saint Dunstan-in-the-West Church, Fleet Street, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 34, Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm (1109) of Canterbury is remembered in Common Worship on 21 April as Abbot of Le Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury and Teacher of the Faith, 1109.

Saint Anselm was born in Aosta, northern Italy, in 1033. As a young man, he left home and travelled north, visiting many monasteries and other centres of learning. One of his visits was to the abbey of Le Bec, where he met Lanfranc, who advised him to embrace monastic life.

Anselm had a powerful and original mind and, during his 34 years at Bec (as monk, prior and finally abbot), he taught many others and wrote theological, philosophical and devotional works.

When Lanfranc died Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury and had to subordinate his scholarly work to the needs of the diocese and nation. When Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, founded the Priory of the Holy Trinity, also known as Christchurch Aldgate, for the Austin canons or Black Canons ca 1108, she was advised and helped by Saint Anselm.

Twice he endured exile for championing the rights of the Church against the authority of the king. But, despite his stubbornness, intellectual rigour, and personal austerity, he was admired by the Norman nobility as well as much loved by his monks. He died in 1109.

Saint Anselm (third from left), with Archbishop Lanfranc, Saint Dunstan and Archbishop Langton depicted in the window above the High Altar in Saint Dunstan-in-the-West Church, Fleet Street, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

John 8: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone’ (John 8: 7) … rocks, stone and pebbles on the shoreline at Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 18 March 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Lent Reflection: True repentance is the key to Christian Freedom.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Dr Simon Ro, Dean of Graduate School of Theology at Sungkonghoe (Anglican) University, Seoul, Korea.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (18 March 2024) invites us to pray reflecting on these words:

As yesterday was Saint Patrick’s Day, let us pray for the Church of Ireland and give thanks for the life and legacy of Saint Patrick.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters
we do also for you:
give us the will to be the servant of others
as you were the servant of all,
and gave up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

Gracious Father,
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Joseph of Nazareth:
God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
give us grace to follow him
in faithful obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday: Saint Osmund of Salisbury

Tomorrow: Saint William of York

The ‘Site of the Priory of the Holy Trinity Founded 1108’ in London, founded by Queen Matilda with the advice and help of Saint Anselm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A blessing in the Chapel of the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, seen shortly after my stroke two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)